Staff photo by Raul R. Rubiera
James 'Jimmie' Schalla Jr., 56, and his wife, Cindy, 55, began their RV
lifestyle full time in 2007. 'We really don't know what day it is
because we don't look at a calendar very much anymore,' says Jimmie
Schalla, who was a warrant officer and mechanic with Army aviation.
Living the RV lifestyle - taking to the open road in a motor home - may not be for everyone.
it's a trend that's growing, thanks to large numbers of people looking
to untether themselves from their homes and seek adventures. And it's a
lifestyle that's not just for retirees. The typical RV owner is 48 years
old, with the largest gains in ownership falling to those ages 35 to
54, according to a 2011 report about RV usage from the University of
"I mean, really, once your kids are grown and gone, do
you really use all those rooms?" said Kitty Hornung, 64, who has been
living the RV lifestyle for 16 years with her husband, Bill. "Besides,
people are downsizing today, anyway."
Last year, the number of
recreational vehicle-owning households numbered 8.9 million, a jump of 1
million from 2005, the survey said. About 8.5 percent of U.S.
households own RVs.
The statistics don't surprise Tom Dreyer, who manages the Fayetteville KOA RV campsite at the Wade exit of Interstate 95.
"More and more, folks just like to get away from it all," Dreyer said. "They're looking for a life change, a new adventure."
the Fayetteville KOA site, part of a national chain of RV parks,
there's a unique mix of RV owners and renters, including about 50
full-time residents. A large number of the residents are military
personnel, either active duty or retired.
The following RV owners
at the Fayetteville KOA have abandoned a life of stationary living in
exchange for a more transient existence. Their reasons for the change
are varied, but they all agree their new lifestyle took quite an
For James "Jimmie"
Schalla Jr., 56, and his wife, Cindy, 55, the biggest adjustment was
getting used to not looking at a calendar.
"We really don't know what day it is because we don't look at a calendar very much anymore," Jimmie Schalla said.
was a consummate clock-watcher during his 22 years as a warrant officer
and mechanic with Army aviation. After retiring from the military,
Schalla worked as a military contractor for 14 years. That's when he
bought his first RV - "a van on steroids" - and began using it as his
In 2005, the Schallas began planning to become
full-time RVers, which meant selling their home and figuring out what to
do with all of their stuff. Their plan got a large nudge when Jimmie
Schalla lost his job to corporate layoffs.
Rather than be
discouraged, Schalla was emboldened. In 2007, the couple began renting
their former Fayetteville town house and reduced their worldly
possessions to two storage pods - other than what's inside their 39-foot
Newmar Dutch Star motor home.
"Life's too short; there's just so much to see," Jimmie Schalla said. "I remember thinking, 'I wish I had done this sooner.' "
couple have traveled to numerous East Coast destinations, visiting
different vineyards in the Carolinas, as well as Disney World.
the Fayetteville KOA, Schalla has earned the nickname the "Fire Pit
King" from his fellow residents, as he often invites others to join him
around a friendly campfire.
The key to a successful RV lifestyle, Schalla said, is having a solid foundation with whomever you're sharing the experience.
got to really enjoy spending time with your spouse," Jimmie Schalla
said. "Some couples may love each other but not like spending a lot of
time with each other. Well, you don't have that option if you do this.
You're in close quarters all the time."
the Walkers and their 30-foot Jayco travel trailer moved to the
Fayetteville KOA in May, Cindy Walker, 46, learned she would have to be
creative when it came to making the most of their space.
trailer has two bedrooms. But there's not much storage space. Plus, the
Walkers home school their 12-year-old son, Charles, making trailer
living a little cramped.
"Storage space is very important, but since I'm a bit claustrophobic, I had to be inventive with making space," Walker said.
She converted a shower into a bookshelf in the bathroom, for example.
"You find ways to be comfortable because you love this life," she said.
and Charlie, 60, used to live in Asheboro. Charlie worked as a housing
contractor until the bubble burst, leaving him unemployed. The couple
moved to Fayetteville in November for work.
"We lost the home, but we kept the camper," Walker said.
said she's more social than she's ever been, having made lots of
friends at the Fayetteville KOA. She also lost 20 pounds because she's
walking more and biking with her new friends.
It's a good skill to have as the RVers hopscotch all over the country. Soon, the Walkers will be on the move again.
you're an RVer, you have the itch to travel a lot," Walker said. "I
know I'll cry when we leave, but they'll be good tears. Happy tears."
61, and Kitty Hornung, 64, could be considered professional RVers. The
couple are entering their 16th year in the RV lifestyle and their ninth
year as work campers. They're RV enthusiasts who move from campsite to
campsite and work odd jobs at the sites to help defray their living
expenses. In some cases, the work will cover the expenses entirely.
"We were smart," Kitty Hornung said. "We sold our house and learned how to live within our means."
"Yeah, you figure out the difference between wants and needs real fast," Bill Hornung said.
pair, who have been married for 40 years, are work campers at the
Fayetteville KOA, where they'll stay through spring before hitting the
road again. The pair spend, on average, six months at each RV campsite,
usually in more northern locales during the summer, and then reversing
that trend for the winter.
"I'm peaceful and satisfied with life,"
Bill Hornung said. "It's a whole new world every time we move. We're
not in a rush. We just look at it like we're camping all the time, and
there's always tomorrow."
They use the "Yellow System," the
nickname for working within the KOA system of campsites known for its
yellow employee uniforms and corporate colors.
They rarely return to the same campsite, which means there are more states they've been in than haven't.
their pre-RV lives in Florida, Bill worked as an automotive equipment
mechanic, and Kitty was a dog grooming instructor. When Bill's former
boss sold the business while Bill was on vacation, the couple decided to
stay on vacation and never look back.
"You learn how to live in 400 square feet really quick," Kitty said.
pair said they sold their old home and sold or donated whatever
wouldn't fit into their new one, a 36-foot Carriage Extreme 5.
the couple have embraced their life on the road, there are a few things
they miss. Kitty misses Christmas decorations. She and Bill also miss
that sense of uniqueness small towns used to have - something they've
seen disappear across the country over the last several years.
lot of cities and towns can look alike; they're losing their character
to chain stores and strip malls," Kitty said. "I want to see places
where time has stood still."